The following are my contributions to this year’s live coverage: click on the image above for the full articles, where these appear in context.
Opening the festival for us are Ginger and the Ghost, an Australian two-piece in thrall to the eccentric with the singer clad in lingerie and swan wings and the stage layered with papier-mache glaciers. They’re interesting in a Niki and the Dove or Polly Scattergood way, melodic yet bracingly rhythmic, although we are a touch too sober for this.
Doomsquad, on the other hand – well, you probably wouldn’t want to be too drunk for them. It’s a phenomenal row in the best way possible, a confrontational meshing of Jagwar Ma psychedelia and a meditative retreat, drum machines and discordant guitars and unhinged chanting. Heck, there’s even a recorder in there and we didn’t want to kill ourselves in response, which has got to be the highest praise possible.
It takes a lot to lure us to the basement of the Queen’s Hotel – well, free drinks and a USB stick – a characterless space with white walls and corporate carpet and way, way too much daylight for a band like Gartmalen to deal with. Cloaked and cowled and waving banners of arcane symbols, this Netherlands duo conjure nightmare from twisted synths and stabs of noise, their vocals wraithish and effected, but despite their best efforts the room defeats them and the result is less horror than comedic.
Today’s aim to branch away from bands with female vocalists singing over synths – a clear theme this year – doesn’t start well, as that’s precisely what Black City Lights are – although they’ve a cinematic quality that sits nicely with the sleep deprivation. Likewise, Japan’s Ichi with his stilts and ping-pong bats and songs about mosquitos seems par de course for this stage in the weekend, a children’s TV presenter gone rogue with steel pan drums and a harmonica. On paper it sounds horrific, but there’s a heck of a lot of fun to be had watching the cynical masks of the business-card-carrying industry people melt away in childish glee at his efforts – which aren’t so much music as a live rendition of a cheese dream.
Nico Vega up the volume nicely though, all brash guitars and LA swagger, their garage-rock sleazy and invigoured even if their performance draws a little heavily on stadium cliche. Drum solos? Guitarists yelling “fucking rock!” over and over? Er, no.
But hey, they’ve nothing on the NME stage for blunt testosterone. The magazine might have put Skrillex on their cover this week but their programming of the Corn Exchange sets out their stall pretty damn clearly: wall-to-wall male guitar bands, English and loud. Very very loud. And that’s fine, for about fifteen minutes, and then it gets pretty damned dull, Baby Strange and Dahlia’s sets bleeding into one another with a mesh of riffs and yelling and crowd-members spilling beer – although the latter’s frontman at least does a nice line in Cobain vocals married with a Keith Flint drawl. Brighton’s own Royal Blood are much more interesting though, generating a staggering amount of noise for just two people and putting to death the notion that a bass guitar is a background instrument as he metes out Zeppelin-style riffs over the low-end growl. Wonderful, bracing stuff.
Australia’s Sheppard put forward a pretty damned solid case for emigration, all smiles and tans and exuberant joy, and they do a great line in indie-poppy uplift – it’s easy to see why they’ve made No.1 back home, and the six-piece easily one of the most accomplished acts of the festival. Heck, they even – just about – make the trawl out to Concorde 2 worthwhile, which is about as high an accolade as can be bestowed.
‘Their sound melts minds into liquid’ promises the spiel about Mammut, which sounds like drivel but actually isn’t far off: this Icelandic sextet make music that’s really quite difficult to define, a thoroughly captivating assembly of alt-rock riffs and Nordic eccentricity, of melody and rhythm and sudden jarring screams. But they’ve nothing on Baltimore’s Future Islands for sheer tonal veer, frontman Samuel T. Herring moving from impassioned croon to terrifying growl with the same line, his face contorted and tears running from his eyes at points. It’s impossible to resist a singer that feels every beat and synth and shift of his songs like he does, and no-one in the room even tries: the crowd move as one, leaping and flailing and sweating together, and when their 45 minutes are up the demands for more could be weaponised.
Glasgow’s Twin Atlantic get to close the Vevo Sessions, their indie-strident powerful and extremely polished, if a mite too prone to pursuing an easy chorus to really stand out. Still, they’ve a great frontman in the wonderfully-monikered Sam McTrusty, and there’s enough invention in their arrangements to more than hold our interest, particularly with the use of cello to leaven the distortion.